Six years ago I volunteered to review Konami’s flagship sports title, Winning Eleven Soccer 8. It was my first brush with that franchise, and truth be told it was going to be my last. I didn’t enjoy my time with the game all that much, as you can probably infer from the review. I could not fault the developers for their dedication and passion for the sport, but when playing a game based on the simplest game on the planet one should not be required to have a PHD. The game got an ok but not great score, and that got me feedback in a way that no other review before or since has gotten me. Clearly the fans of these games are passionate. But time has a way of making memories fade, and when Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 arrived and volunteers were requested, I stood still while everyone else stepped back. Thanks for volunteering O’Reilly! Ahem. Shall we see what’s changed in the past 6 years?
In the time it took the game to reach me I went out and rented the competition to see where things stood in the world of Soccer games. EA’s FIFA has been a monster on the sales charts for the past few years, approaching Madden sales figures. The 2012 version is typical of EA’s method of building sports games. Make the basic game and then tweak it continually for years. So the game is pretty good. What struck me was just how terrible the menus are. Just try and start a season in a league in that game. Atrocious.
PES 2012 on the other hand is Google by comparison, easy as you please to navigate. You can play in the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Satander Libertadores of Latin America, or in a number of national leagues. Konami still don’t have the rights to many of the leagues, so the English Premier League is called the English League. Teams in the EPL which were not in the Champions League last year are once again named for local references. Liverpool for example are called Merseyside Reds. Finally, if you’re a fan of MLS then this is not the game for you, as they don’t even fake it here. FIFA is the game for you if you want to hear a British accent pronounce your city’s name. (torONNNNtoe)
Football Life is a new addition to the game. It gives you control of a player or manager, or even a team owner once unlocked. Master League gives you control of a franchise. Here you manage your teams finances, how they look, who plays for you, etc. You can then sit back and coach your team to glory. Then there is Become a Legend Mode, which gives you control of one single player, from the start of his career until it’s completion.
The developers have included a training mode which I found to be quite good at instructing the player on how to integrate themselves into the game. A series of mini games that place you in positions you might find yourself in mid game, the training mode was a pleasant surprise. The first stage of training shows you the basics. For free kicks for example you just have to hit the net, essentially. Stage two requires a little more finesse, making you hit targets on the net, while stage three requires you to actually beat a wall of players as well as hitting a target score. This attempt at making the game easier to learn was greatly appreciated.
The game also includes Community and Online modes. Online is your typical Versus mode, you against someone out in the ether(net) playing a game. Community is essentially the home base for your clan, for lack of a better term. You can create a community and then invite all of your friends with the game to join you, then create leagues and play seasons against each other. Community mode is stuffed with different things you can do, I was really impressed.
The announce team of Jon Champion and Jim Beglin do a solid job of voicing their lines, but the game re-uses them much too often for my liking. Not absurdly so like in the old 16 bit days of Madden, but I’m sure they could have found some money in the budget and space on the disc to flesh things out a tiny bit.
Then again, I suppose repetitive lines is better than no vocals at all, which is what you get in Master League Mode. Instead you get full motion cut scenes with text plastered on the screen for the dialogue. That was old when the Genesis was new, it’s unforgivable in this here age of DVDs and compression.
As for the rest of the in game sound, it’s actually very good. The crowd noise is terrific, and brings you right into the stadium. They could probably do more with the noise, perhaps add a vuvuzela or two, but really where it is now is easily enough to earn a satisfactory grade on the report card.
There is not a whole lot of music found in the game, as it would seem strange to hear music playing during the actual games, but during training there is music, and it’s bad. Reach for the mute button bad. Also included is pregame music and intro video music, which is actually quite good, but thank goodness for custom soundtracks during the training mode.
There was a while there when every year I played a new soccer game it looked more and more life like, more realistic. I think we are past that point now in this generation. They just can’t get the players to look any more real than they have already without slowing down the game. Both PES and FIFA this year look damn good, but I just know they could look better with more powerful hardware. As it is the famous players, if you know who to look for, are recognizable in a ya he combs his hair like that type of way. They don’t look nearly as good as the NBA 2K12 players do, but there are 10 players on an NBA court and 22 on a Soccer Pitch, so I think Konami have done an admirable job here.
The game has that glazed look that most European shows have. On TV it has to do with the framerate conversion between Europe and North America, as well as compression when broadcasting via satellite. I don’t know what the excuse is here.
I like the graphical presentation of the game, the Television livery if you like. Each of the different series uses a separate style of graphics for the clock and scores etc. It’s actually just different colors, but it’s still a neat idea that UEFA’s graphics would be different from the Premier League.
Even with the training mode I discussed earlier, you could spend a very long time playing this game before you could be considered competent at it. Fortunately the developers have realized that there is money to be made by helping the player feel like he is contributing. As a result they’ve taken a page from driving games that apply the brakes for you when you are approaching a turn. What they’ve done is include assistant AI, one that almost plays the game for you. If an attacker is moving up the field against your team and you have control of the wrong player the AI will automatically switch you to the appropriate defensive option. There are different levels of assistance that the game lets you control, so if you feel the game is tackling too often for example you can change it.
Now, not everybody is a novice at this game, and for you fine people there is a vast array of controls at your disposal. The newest addition is the option to control a second player using the right analog stick in order to better attack your enemy. Your player is dribbling down the pitch and you see a lane open in the defense. If only the AI would recognize that opening and go there, you could spring them free for a shot on goal. Now with this second player control option you can do it yourself. If you are capable of seeing where two players are going at the same time of course. Still, it’s an option that wasn’t there before.
I could spend paragraphs telling you about all of the control options found in this game. Seriously. There are 10 pages in the manual dedicated to describing the controls to you. Let me instead reassure those of you that have a history with this franchise, it’s still as deep as ever. And if you’re new to the game, don’t worry you can play it and enjoy it much like you can FIFA.
There is a huge amount of replay built into this game. You have all of the single player options, including single season and multiple season in all of the different leagues, you can guide a single player from nothing to super stardom over the course of a career, and then you have the multiplayer features. One on one is good enough, generally, but having the option to create your own Football club, with you and a league of fellow friends fighting it out for the championship is terrific. You can customize the teams in your league, transfer teams from one league to another, create your very own super league.
The game has five difficulty settings for the on the field action, so you will never feel overwhelmed. The problem comes when you start to dominate one difficulty level and decide to raise your game, only to get smoked. Then you must practice.
The online is pretty well balanced also. You start the game with a rating and are matched against other players of similar ranking. Your play dictates if your rating will rise or fall. I know that’s pretty common for FPS players but I don’t know that it happens all that often in sports games.
There is a saying, that Quantity is a Quality all its own. I don’t know why that comes to mind right now, other than maybe by throwing absolutely everything into this game Konami have come up with something uniquely their own. One other thing comes to mind, this is the first sports game I’ve ever seen that uses Street Fighter moves in it’s control scheme. Hadoken!
I cannot say that this game held me tightly in it’s iron fisted gauntlet and would not let go, as that would be over stating it just a tiny bit. I can say that I did not rage quit at any point while playing this time around, and I enjoyed myself far more.
The more soccer mad you are, and the more time you are willing to dedicate to this game, the more you will likely get out of this game. But even if you are merely a casual player there is plenty here to occupy your time.
I find myself annoyed with some problems I encountered in the game. Why when attempting a through pass is the AI incapable of doing anything about the ball that is passing right beside him into the opponent’s feet? Why does almost every ball out of bounds result in a video replay, and occasionally more than one? Why was there no option included for MLS teams?
And lastly, this isn’t really a problem so much as it’s a how did they manage to sneak that past Microsoft? If you play the UEFA Champions League games you will notice a set of banners that happen to stand out just a tiny bit on this Microsoft console. I know there are deals that force sponsors to be shown on things, but wow.
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is a game that deserves your attention if you are a soccer fan. Don’t just assume FIFA is the game to get, go give them both a rent and decide for yourself.